Because there’s no time like now to catch up on the best the small screen can offer.
Picture this scenario: it’s the end of the workday, you’ve just got home (or if you’re working from home, transformed your work-couch into your rest-couch) and you hit up your streaming services. Instantly, you’re bombarded with choices across various carousels. Do you go for the “Recently Added”? Maybe the “Top Ten”? You’ve heard that these shows are pretty good, but why risk it? How do you know if it’s going to be worth your time? Well, that’s why we’re here to serve up the best of what’s appeared on TV screens over the past few months.
I May Destroy You (Neon)
Based on the first five episodes, I called HBO drama Run the best thing I’d seen all year (and lord, that show went off the rails). Now I would give that title to I May Destroy You, the HBO drama that’s been slowly picking up buzz, acclaim, and soon awards too, no doubt. Michaela Coel created and stars in this show about a Twitter-star-turned-novelist who, after a night out, struggles to remember exactly what happened to her. It’s a scenario that feels all too real, and Coel digs into both her character and her situation with empathy, humour and care. The full season is on Neon now, so there’s no better time to get bingeing. / Sam Brooks
Read Keagan Carr Fransch’s excellent review here.
Lenox Hill (Netflix)
If spending hours immersed in a busy city hospital doesn’t sound like your idea of fun right now, that’s completely understandable. But if you take a chance on Lenox Hill despite, you know, all this, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most moving viewing experiences of the year. The series focuses on four New York doctors – two neurosurgeons, an obstetrician and an emergency room doctor – all of them utterly dedicated to their jobs, and to the patients they treat. Their respective specialities mean a heartrending brain cancer case (and be warned, occasionally a death) is often followed by a joyous, teary birth – and then by an accident victim who has no insurance, because America. The circle of life, in all its beauty and cruelty. / Catherine McGregor
The Great (Neon)
You know those shows you expect to be a quick half hour that end up being a full 60 minutes? The ones you thought were comedies but are actually dramas with a jokey line every now and then? The Great is the opposite of that. It’s a comedy-drama filled with so many punchlines that you often forget each episode is almost an hour long. Oh, and it’s about Catherine the Great (played by a tremendous Elle Fanning). If you wish Succession was a bit lighter and a lot less bleak, then you should watch The Great. If an anti-historical black comedy set in a royal court sounds familiar, that’s probably because showrunner Tony McNamara was one of the co-creators of the very similarly themed Oscar-winnner The Favourite. / SB
Love on the Spectrum (Netflix)
It feels like this one went under the radar when it launched in July, but I couldn’t recommend it more. Structured like a standard dating show, Love on the Spectrum follows the romantic journeys of 11 single people, all of whom are on the autism spectrum. It would be both misleading and patronising to call this simply “feel-good” TV. Instead, it’s an incredibly mature, eye-opening exploration of loving relationships that might be different from what we consider “normal”. If that doesn’t sell you on it, then this might: it’s the one reality dating show that lets you come away feeling better about humanity, not worse. / SB
Dave is about a white rapper from Philadelphia, Dave Burd (played by the real Dave Burd, also known as rapper Lil Dicky) trying to make the transition from viral sensation to legitimate recording artist. Based on that description alone, I’d rather watch Covid-19 make the transition from viral sensation to global pandemic. But beyond all the dick-gazing material, Dave ends up being a surprisingly melancholic, and touching, comedy about a dude who takes being a joke incredibly seriously, and doesn’t understand why people don’t believe he has what it takes to become a serious artist. I wouldn’t want to run into Dave at a bar, but I’d more than happily watch him and his loved ones (this show is blessed with an appealing supporting cast) for another season. / SB
Warrior Nun (Netflix)
Sometimes my job is to direct you to something you’ve maybe scrolled past and disregarded, because the streaming algorithms picked a bad image for it. And sometimes my job is to direct you to something that might be in your wheelhouse but you’ve never heard of. This is the latter. If the title of this series – about an orphan who discovers that she has supernatural powers that force her to join a cabal of yes, warrior nuns – doesn’t convince you to watch it, then nothing will. / SB
I’ll Be Gone in The Dark (Neon)
For years, Michelle McNamara dedicated her life to the hunt for the man she dubbed the Golden State Killer. McNamara wasn’t a police officer or detective, though, but a true crime blogger who would go on to turn her obsession with the serial killer into a book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. That book was released posthumously, and the author’s tragic death haunts almost every frame of the six-part HBO documentary series about McNamara, her search, and the Golden State Killer’s many, many victims. While often hard to watch – the rapes and murders are described in unflinching, horrific detail – I’ll Be Gone in a Dark is more than just another queasy true crime documentary. The series is also a portrait of an intensely driven and hugely talented writer, and, thanks to the contributions of McNamara’s husband, the actor and comedian Patton Oswalt, something of a love story too. / CM
Love Life (TVNZ OnDemand)
Want to go through your own dating history during a pandemic? Of course not! But do you want to go through the charming, sometimes sad, dating history of Darby Carter, winningly played by Anna Kendrick, all throughout her 20s and early 30s? I think you just might. This anthology show, which will follow a different character each season, explores Darby’s entire dating history, with all its foibles, in quick half-hour bites. It’s nothing earth-shaking, but it’s cute and charming and it’ll make you smile and nod your head in recognition. That’s all you need sometimes. / SB
Despite the photo above, Stateless is not a show where Cate Blanchett plays a naughty cabaret singer in some sort of dystopian future. Instead it’s a miniseries – co-created by Blanchett herself – revolving around four strangers in a detention centre in the Australian desert. Based on the true story of Cornelia Rau, a permanent resident of Australia who was unlawfully detained under the government’s mandatory detention programme, Stateless is an intense, compelling six-part series with a cast that includes not only Blanchett, but Dominic West, Yvonne Strahovski (The Handmaiden’s Tale), Asher Keddie (Offspring) and New Zealand’s own Rachel House. / SB
A whole lot of Australian stand-up specials (Prime Video)
If you’re into stand-up comedy, one of the best things about the streaming era is exponentially more access to specials from around the world. While both Netflix and now Neon have a plethora of specials in their archives, they’re a bit of a mixed bag. For a arlier this year, Amazon Prime Video realised a series of hourlong specials from Australian comedians, including Tom Walker, Celia Pacquiola and Judith Lucy, that includes some of the best stand-up I’ve ever seen. If you want to jump in with a solid hour of jokes, start with Walker and Pacquiola. If you want something a bit more meta that’ll blow your mind, go with Zoe Coombs Marr and Judith Lucy. And if you want something that’ll make you laugh while you’re trying not to cry, check out Alice Fraser. / SB
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.